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IP/11/445

Brussels, 7th April 2011

State aid: Commission consults stakeholders on state aid rules for the aviation sector

The European Commission has launched a public consultation, to get stakeholders' views on the application of the 2005 EU Guidelines on the financing of airports and start-up aid to airlines from regional airports. The Commission also seeks views on the 1994 EU Aviation Guidelines that also contain rules for the assessment of social and restructuring aid for airlines. Submissions can be made until 6 June 2011. In light of the comments received, the Commission will decide, whether the guidelines need to be revised and will consult further before adopting any new rules.

"The air transport market has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Gathering information from the market, from consumers and from Member States is a vital first step for us to assess whether the guidelines published in 1994 and 2005 remain appropriate for the market conditions of today or need to be changed and how. I hope as many people as possible respond to this consultation," said Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia.

In 1994, in the context of the liberalisation of the market for air transport services, the Commission adopted the first EU Aviation Guidelines, which contain provisions for assessing social and restructuring aid to airlines in order to provide a level playing field for air carriers. They were completed, in 2005, by guidelines on the public financing of airports and on the start up of airline services from regional airports. Since the entry into force of the 2005 Guidelines, the Commission has adopted more than 60 decisions concerning the financing of airports, airlines and start-up aid for the financing of new routes.

The air transport market has evolved dramatically in recent years: low-cost carriers have developed new and comprehensive business models linked to regional airports and have gained substantial market shares. At the same time, the former national carriers have almost all completed their restructuring process, consolidating their presence in Europe. In a recent landmark ruling, the General Court has confirmed that the construction of airport infrastructure is part of the economic activity of operating an airport and that State financing towards it is State aid except for what concerns infrastructure used to perform public interest tasks such as security, air traffic control, police and customs (see General Court's judgement on 23 March in the DHL-Leipzig-Halle airport Commission decision of July 2008). However, the General Court in December 2008 also annulled the Commission's decision in the Ryanair-Charleroi case. The Commission has a significant number of complaints in the sector from the former flag carriers against the low-cost airlines, on the one hand, and from the latter against the former, on the other hand.

The purpose of the present consultation is, thus, to invite Member States and stakeholders to provide feedback on the application of the 1994 and 2005 Aviation Guidelines. The Commission is particularly interested to receive information about the changes in the business models of airlines and airports and recent developments concerning the financing of infrastructure and start-up aid to airlines.

The Commission will analyse the submissions received before deciding to what extent changes to the current rules are necessary and, if appropriate, come forward with a proposal for revised Aviation Guidelines by 2012.

Neither of the EU Guidelines has an expiry clause, but in view of the significant market changes that have taken place in the last decade, the Commission has initiated this review process.

The public consultation is available at:

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/consultations/2011_aviation_guidelines/index_en.html


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